Liberia: Northbridge Services Group Under Investigation
On August 7, 2003, The Financial Times reported the Federal Bureau of
Investigation was investigating the role of the Northbridge Services
Group, an Anglo-American private military company (PMC), about its role in
the Liberia civil strife on behalf of the rebel group, Liberians United
for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd), especially a plan to arrest
former Liberian President Charles Taylor and take him to the Sierra Leone
Ad Hoc Tribunal to answer charges. The investigation raises many cases
generally about the role of PMCs in the law of war and related areas.
Both the FBI and UK Customs have investigated whether it had violated UN
arms embargoes. The apparently overlapping investigations indicate U.S.
and U.K. authorities are concerned about the involvement of PMCs and
western mercenaries in Africa's conflicts.
Earlier this year the British Government publicly chastised Northbridge
after reports it was hiring several hundred fighters for the Ivory Coast
Government. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the deployment by
Northbridge would undermine the peace process in Ivory Coast.
According to a media report for several months Northbridge had tried to
obtain funding from the Sierra Leone Ad Hoc Tribunal to fund the planned
operation to arrest Mr. Taylor. Apparently the Tribunal said it was open
to the Northbridge operation, but did not have funds. It is said to have
privately suggested the U.S. Government might pay for the operation to
Northbridge and Lurd reportedly had also discussed having Northbridge
deploy up to 2,000 men to "enforce" peace in Liberia ahead of the arrival
of a UN peacekeeping force. Some of the discussions with Northbridge
occurred with T.Q. Harris, the Lurd's California-based negotiator and a
former Liberian presidential candidate. Mr. Harris said his opposition
group had raised funds to hire Northbridge, but stopped because of the
deployment of Nigerian peacekeeping troops.
The FBI has questioned Northbridge's U.K. principal Andrew Williams at the
U.S. Embassy in London. The FBI investigation apparently has divided
Northbridge, which is composed of former U.S. and U.K, soldiers who
apparently have disagreed about the roles of Northbridge.
Northbridge is one of the largest PMCs and has staffing from organizations
such as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. and British special
The U.K. has expressed concern surrounding mercenaries subsequent to a
1997 scandal in which the U.K. Government was accused of using Sandline
International, a British company, to circumvent U.N. arms embargoes. The
U.K. Customs uncovered Sandline's operations. The U.N. and national
governments have been sensitive about using PMCs proactively due to fear
they may not be able to control the outcome. For instance, in 1997 the
British Government was embarassed when it was revealed that Sandline
International was delivering weapons to Sierra Leone in apparent
contravention of a U.N. arms embargo. Although initially denying
knowledge, the British Foreign Office was shown to have been aware of the
An issue with respect to the use by governments of PMCs in conducting
war-like operations is the lack of proper oversight in key areas. For
instance, according to a General Accounting Office report in 1998 the
Pentagon realized it lacked central oversight of contracts for emergency
essential services and no legal basis to compel contractors to perform. It
also had no means to enforce contract terms. Other issues are to whom
do contractors report to in combat? To whom do they turn to ask questions
about sensitive legal issues surrounding the law of war? Who is liable if
they are killed or injured? What rights do they have if their personnel
are captured by enemy forces? What legal liability do contractors have if
they kill or injure civilians, internationally or by accident? Some of the
latter issues were raised on April 20, 2001, when a Peruvian fight working
with a U.S. PMC shot down a plane carrying a group of U.S. missionaries,
killing Veronica Bowers and her baby daughter, Charity.
Since the incident involving Sandline in Sierra Leone and another
involving Sandline in Papua New Guinea, the U.K. Government has tried to
stop any British PMCs from involvement in a foreign conflict. However, the
U.K. Government, like most governments, has no formal regulatory regime
South Africa has become proactive in regulating PMSs and mercenaries,
forbidding its nationals from fighting in a foreign war without government
approval. South Africa successfully convicted a person in August after he
was caught hiring mercenaries for Ivory Coast.
In the US the 1968 Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic
in Arms Regulations reg ulate PMCs in both arms dealing and the export of
military services. U.S. companies manufacturing defense articles in the
U.S., exporting defense articles, furnishing defense services (e.g.,
training), or engaged in brokering activities military advice or training
must first register and obtain a license from the State Department.
The U.S. is employing PMCs, such as DynCorp, a company based in Virginia,
to guard leaders of the Afghan Government against assassination attempts.
Their home in Afghanistan is Camp Aegis, an imposing compound next to the
central bank in the center of Kabul. Most of the DynCorp personnel in Camp
Aegis are former military personnel, including U.S. Special Forces and
Delta Force troops who have served in other problem areas, such as Somalia
In Colombia DynCorp operates a fleet of OV-10 "Bronco" jets leased from
the U.S. Government. In Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and more recently
in Afghanistan and Iraq, companies such as Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a
subsidiary of Halliburton, perform a vast range of services that were once
carried out by military personnel. For instance, KBR has obtain a huge
contract from the U.S. Government known as Logcap. The open-ended contract
calls for Halliburton to perform various logistics services for the
Pentagon, from base construction and laundry services to airfield
An important area for PMCs is the compliance and enforcement regime
operated by the Office of Defense Trade Controls DTC) at State Department.
The Compliance and Enforcement Branch (CEB) handles making a voluntary
disclosure and resolving compliance issues. The DTC maintains a watch
list, which is intended to identify individuals, companies, agencies,
groups and others whose association with a registration or export license
application, or other request for approval by DTC, may warrant closer
examination. The bulk of the caseload at DTC, related to ITAR
violations, comes from voluntary dislcosures.
Indeed the increasing use of PMCs pose many international law issues that
companies, national governments, international organizations, and national
and international courts will have to